Monday, September 05, 2005

Whom Can We Trust?

Does the fumbled response to Katrina signal the beginning of the end for the Republican Party? Bipartisan congressional demands for hearings into why things went so badly indicate that it might. Even Newt Gingrich has blasted the GOP dominated federal government: "If we can’t respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the gulf for days, then why do we think we’re prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?"

No amount of Rovewellian spin can mask our present reality. The neoconservative flavor of GOP stewardship has pushed the world's hegemon to the limits of its power. Our best-trained, best-equipped, best-funded armed force in history is bogged down halfway across the world in an insurgency we cannot win militarily. On the home front, our Homeland Security apparatus has demonstrated its tragic inability to respond to natural disaster (and by inference, a major terrorist attack). Our economy, already stretched past prudent limits by tax cuts and an optional war, may never recover from the burden of the Katrina recovery effort.

How did we get here? How long a list do you want to make? Imperialist ideology, unquenchable thirst for power, hidden political agendas, critical mass cronyism, fiscal irresponsibility, cynical propaganda, shameless scapegoating, fear, pride, gullibility, religious fanaticism (ours, not the bad guys')...

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Admiral Tim Keating, head of Northern Command, gave a news conference earlier today. As far as I know, this is the first time Keating and Northern Command have risen above the Katrina radar horizon. I worked for Admiral Keating when he was Captain Keating and in command of Carrier Air Wing Eight, so my thoughts on Northern Command's job in the rescue and relief effort are anything but objective.

Admiral Keating's opening remark--"We're gonna kick Katrina's ass"--was at best unfortunate. That kind of thing sounded good when he commanded Fifth Fleet during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In this context, it reminded one of John Cleese's black night in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, rolling on the ground, bleeding from all four stumps, screaming, "Come back here and fight like a man, you sissy."

But the rest of Keating's performance was what I would have expected of him. Savvy, sympathetic, informed. Above all, he didn’t have the sound our civilian leaders have exhibited the last few days, spinning the situation, denying responsibility and rejecting blame.

It was CNN's Jamie Macintire who first broached the big question. Was this the best response that could be mounted, or could a better job have been done?

Keating's answer today covered a lot of familiar ground about "lessons learned" and future reconstructions of what could have gone better. But he also said some interesting things about the readiness of NORTHCOM and DOD for the storm response.

He said that his staff started making plans five days before Katrina made landfall, and when she hit, Keating's troops were already on their way.

The Tim Keating I knew was a lot of things, but a liar wasn't one of them. If he says the troops were on their way, you can bet real money that they were.

So what held them up?

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It may be that Admiral Keating and his Northern Command will be the thing that restores America's faith in the federal government's ability to deliver the goods. But that leaves us in a critical neo-conundrum. If we trust our military more than we trust our elected officials, and our elected officials control our military, whom do we really trust to run our country?

We have interesting times ahead.

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